I'm an avid reader of Stoic philosophy, to the point I would say it's a central pillar of my life. I would strongly advocate anyone interested in Stoicism not read these recent texts first, or, if I'm honest, really at all. I get that they're trying to making it approachable, but I feel that in an attempt to modernize the message they really lose most of it. One of the beautiful things about Stoicism is that the ancient philosophers were very mindful of speaking plainly, and their texts are extremely approachable. Epictetus' Enchiridion is very easy to parse and is packed full of very practical knowledge. It is one hundred percent the place to start. Following that, read Seneca's letters to Lucilius, which are titled either Moral Letters to Lucilius or Letters from a Stoic. These are very straight forward teachings in very direct language.
Beyond that there's a whole canon of writing. The only extant writing from Stoic philosophers are from Epictetus and Seneca. There are fragments from Musonius Rufus, and a small handful from the very ancients like Chrysippus and Zeno. There are writings about Stoicism by Marcus Aurelius, a very famous follower but not a teacher himself, and by Cicero, though he also wrote against the philosophy in other places. Marcus Aurelius' writings are very approachable and often recommended.
There are a few modern academic writings I would suggest to someone who has read the ancient sources, specifically the papers by A.A. Long. If you absolutely must have a modern book about the school, I'll contradict my earlier statement and say that William B. Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life is one exception.
I love Stoicism and am happy to talk about it at length. Anyone who is interested can feel free to contact me about it, my email is in my profile.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0040JHNQG (I prefer the Audible version though)
Which translation would you recommend?
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Stoicism is formally taught in the classroom to aspiring Navy SEALs; it’s probably capable of handling (necessary) violence
Obviously stoicism makes a useful tool for someone who must endure the incredible hardship of soul that special operations must endure, however it's important to note that it is equally useful for the enemy to be just as resilient.
A great link was posted below with multiple translations: https://enchiridion.tasuki.org
We fold the flag, present it to the next of kin, play taps, and provide an honorable exit for anybody who has served.
It's been the most meaningful part of my 14 years of military service - which included a combat deployment.
Simply walking through the cemetery before the service is profound. All that remains of a life time of stories is usually just a name and a date. It's humbling to reflect that within 100 years (at the very very most), I too will be there...and some random stranger may come across my grave.
Death makes life all the more meaningful for me. Engaging with mourning families at least monthly helps me cherish my moments doing the things I love all the more.
My friend's step-father recently passed away. He was a Vietnam era veteran and didn't leave this world with much planning for his passing. The service provided by the volunteers was of huge comfort to my friend and his family, the simple yet meaningful service lent dignity to the end of a situation that didn't have much of it.
Have compiled the following tangible techniques/approaches to thought feel free to add your own:
* Premeditatio Malorum (premeditation of evils or Negative Visualization)
* Stoic Fork - Make the best use of things in your control and let nature handle the rest
* Temporary Ownership - Never think of things you own as yours, merely borrowing from the universe (recycle)
* Superficial Experimentation - Put yourself through situations that warrant ridicule in order to become resistant to it
* Worse Case Scenario Simulation - Set aside a certain number of days to eat the cheapest food and cheapest clothing asking yourself: is this the condition I so feared? Make yourself uncomfortable
* Only be ashamed of things worth being ashamed of; inoculate against superficial attachment in what others think
* Planned Fasting
* Planned Cold
* Planned Poverty
* Planned Ugly Clothing
* Context Shifting - Cosmic relativism; remember you’re going to die and the world will keep turning
* Growth mindset - praise yourself for the work not the result; challenge creates growth
* Remove Distractions - am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do THIS anymore ? If it’s no, then Remove the conveniences.
* Opinions to actions - opinions are fine to have and express if they are followed by action but you shouldn’t have an opinion to have an opinion
* Default to action - action before talking; so what needs to be done instead of “I should”
* Daily quote meditation - take a stoic quote and reflect on how to apply it to your life everyday
* Stoic Mindfulness - be in the moment; be attentive to what’s happening
* Daily reflection journal - what did I do right ? What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?
* Art of Aquiescence
However, we don't want to die (because we are so attached to life, it's hard to overrule billions of years of evolution).
So we have to endure the suffering until we die on our own, or until the suffering becomes great enough to overcome the mental barrier of suicide.
Just as we can train our bodies through exercise to deal with exertion, so too can we train our minds through philosophy to deal with suffering. It makes life easier to live.
(I say this having adopted some of these views and found myself at a lower baseline happiness, but also with less variance.)
Likewise death: when you've faced the prospect of death, of coming to grips with it, and survived it & now knowing you're on borrowed time, all things become a gift. I am literally hearing my heart beat right now from the sound of a machine, and every beat is directed by a computer; I've been (technically) dead, not for want of my body trying to get & stay there 4 different ways. Every moment is now a gift, something I'd not have experienced if not for modern medical tech (even healthier than most my age). Every dreary day, every hurtful word, every irritation, ... each is better than not having it at all, each being a painful step to the joys of sunsets, cardinals, smiling children, snuggling wife, and every other precious moment I have because "they're stopping his heart now" was followed (hours later) by the unreal experience of waking up.
For those who have not been to the edge and back, one's sense of proportion would do well to contemplate the meaning of going there, giving proper scale to the minutiae so many find impossibly grievous.
Does Stoicism rationalize suicide?
>But remember the principal thing, -that the door is open. Do not be more fearful than children; but as they, when the play dues not please them, say, " I will play no longer," so do you, in the same case, say, "I will play no longer," and go; but, if you stay, do not complain. [p. 1081]
A detailed analysis can be found here: https://people.creighton.edu/~wos87278/Stephens/Ancient-Phil...
Aurelius as such (Meditations, book V):
>As thou intendest to live when thou art gone out,...so it is in thy power to live here. But if men do not permit thee, then get away out of life, yet so as if thou wert suffering no harm. The house is smoky, and I quit it. Why dost thou think that this is any trouble? But so long as nothing of the kind drives me out, I remain, am free, and no man shall hinder me from doing what I choose; and I choose to do what is according to the nature of the rational and social animal.
(and in book X):
>For to continue to be such as thou hast hitherto been, and to be tom in pieces and defiled in such a life, is the character of a very stupid man and one overfond of his life, and like those half-devoured fighters with wild beasts, who though covered with wounds and gore, still intreat to be kept to the following day, though they will be exposed in the same state to the same claws and bites. Therefore fix thyself in the possession of [virtues]: and if thou art able to abide in them, abide as if thou wast removed to certain islands of the Happy. But if thou shalt perceive that thou fallest out of them and dost not maintain thy hold, go courageously into some nook where thou shalt maintain them, or even depart at once from life, not in passion, but with simplicity and freedom and modesty, after doing this one laudable thing at least in thy life, to have gone out of it thus.
In short: leaving life on one's own terms is fine, provided they are rationally considered (so not on the spur of a moment).
If you're interested in Stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius is also an excellent read: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/marcus-aurelius/meditation...
Stewart's Seneca translation is admittedly not a super great one, but it does the job. Long's Marcus Aurelius translation is very solid though.
Thinking about death is probably not that healthy of an idea. But exposing yourself to death is probably quite valuable. Consider volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, or even an animal shelter.
“Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”
About the question, though, I thought about what he said about telling friends and family you're always busy. It was just something that came to mind, making me wish I'd spent more of my time with people I enjoy being around.
I'm not going to go through the entire book point by point, but here are some salient points your summary misses:
One of the main points of the book is that when most people complain that life is short and they don't have much time they are mistaken. They are mistaken for various reasons, one of the main ones being that they waste their time.
Seneca would not agree with you that merely spending time "on whatever is meaningful in your life" would necessarily be a good use of your life. He goes on at length to decry the many things that even exceedingly rich people occupy their lives with that he thinks are a waste of time (such as vanity; chasing fame, wealth, or favor; being busy-bodies; concerning themselves with trivia, etc), and then talks about the things he thinks would be a good use of one's time -- the best according to him being (Stoic) philosophy.
He emphasizes that one should live for today, rather than for the future. "The greatest hinderance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes today." "Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow."
So chasing wealth in order to at some future time have the leisure to enjoy it would be antithetical to Seneca, and is in fact one of the things he explicitly argues against:
"You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!"
He's not encouraging the reader to chase after any get-rich-quick schemes either. The man upon whom fortune smiles today could be crushed under its foot tomorrow. Self-mastery and tranquility of mind is what he's after, as only then can one be indifferent to fortune's whims.
There's much more as well. This book is just so chock full of wisdom, I can not praise it highly enough. I really recommend you sit down one day, read through it slowly, and carefully think through each of the things he says.
> I just read it a few weeks back and was disappointed.
Too short, was it?
It's only for the last 'present moment' that what he said holds.
There is only the present moment.
This isn't a philosophical stance - it's actually a subtle point that isn't obvious until pointed out, everything you experience, you experience right now, and never any other time, always now.
Only as an accounting trick.
People alive have a long series of present moments to go through. And they are conscious of that, and can make plans, and look forward to those.
Dead people don't have anything.
>This isn't a philosophical stance - it's actually a subtle point that isn't obvious until pointed out, everything you experience, you experience right now, and never any other time, always now.
Animals do that (and not sure even for them).
Humans always include the past and the future in their experience of "right now".
If there's "only the present moment", then knowing you have 2 weeks to live because of some sudden severe illness (with no other symptoms except death), would be just as well to anybody. I doubt that this is the case. Of course a stoic can argue otherwise (I don't care what will happen in 2 weeks), but that's a bona fide philosophical stance. Not a subtle point about the human experience.
Some would argue that the entire universe, past present and future, exists simultaneously for an outside observer — I believe there have been some results in quantum physics even suggesting this. This might apply to the physical world, but obviously not to consciousness.
One more thing: realizing this truth is actually very freeing, and has made me more adept at conducting life strategically in this world, not less.
This is in complete agreement with what I've said. I am merely pointing out that when you make plans, when you are aware of a long series of present moments to go through, you are doing so, right now.
Never any other time.
Again, this isn't a philosophical position as is stoicism - this is based on personal experience. If you ask yourself when anything ever happens, it is only from the present moment that you can make any claims. Because the thought of what you did yesterday or what will happen tomorrow is going to always happen in the now.
> If there's "only the present moment", then knowing you have 2 weeks to live because of some sudden severe illness (with no other symptoms except death), would be just as well to anybody.
This is an excellent point. The folks who are in tune with there only ever being the present moment - would have a very different reaction from those who have a thousand and one concerns because there's the future to look forward to.
This is not to say they will not be affected - there are very deep rooted instincts in the human experience, that don't want to experience dying. The subtle point is that there is another part to the human experience that doesn't mind living or dying - the part that is very well aware that there's only the present moment, and hence no living or dying from that perspective.
It's not one perspective or another that one has to accept as 'right' - it's just recognizing that there are many aspects to life, and being aware of 'easy come, easy go' of moment to moment, as well as 'no pain, no gain' of planning your life out, is good, because then, there is balance in between the two.
The hippies are stuck in 'it's all one maaaan' and the average person is stuck in worrying about tomorrow, so the hippy would benefit from a little planning, an average person from a little oneness :)
And for the same reason, it's BS to say "it's just the present" for humans as well. For animals, maybe.
(I don't mean to be a jerk but I do mean to criticize your apparent lack of self-awareness.)
The Emperor asked Master Gudo, "What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"
"How should I know?" replied Gudo.
"Because you are a master," answered the Emperor.
"Yes sir," said Gudo, "but not a dead one."
I have heard some crazy stories, which if true would be very hard to explain rationally.
Parallels in Hindu and Stoic Ethical Thought
> Krishna reminded Arjuna that "Thinking about sense objects will attach you to sense objects. Grow attached and you become addicted. Thwart your addiction, it turns to anger. Be angry and you confuse your mind. Confuse your mind, you forget the lesson of experience. Forget experience, you lose discrimination. Lose discrimination, and you miss life's only purpose".
This mindset can be used as an alternative to existentialism in which you realize life has no purpose, and that is followed by 'you make your own purpose'. It helps eliminate some of the post-modernistic relativism and introduces some level of objectivity into this big question.
(Googling, others who know more about both have made this connection too: https://dailystoic.com/stoicism-buddhism/ For that matter, from that article: "[stoicism stresses] being in accordance with nature and accepting all of the things that happen in life" reminds me that the word "Islam" means "submission" in this sense too -- accepting what God gives you, i.e. what the 'universe' gives you. I guess there's probably some fundamental similarities at the root of most spirituality)
In Seneca's defense, some have pointed out that he tried to moderate Nero and steer him towards the path of virtue, though he ultimately failed.
It is often claimed that the ancient greeks experimented with every possible philosophical system, of which stoicism is one of many. To me this ultimate freedom of thought, this willingness to challenge and explore ideas without fear of tradition and authority, and to create new ones and following them wherever they may lead, this open mindedness is one of their great contributions.
Of all these, Epicureism is possibly the one that has ultimately triumphed, via Lucrecius' De Rerum Natura. This point of view is wonderfully explained in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Absolutely fascinating how by starting by speculating that everyting that exists has an exclusively material substance and is made of atoms (he wasn't the first to speculate this though), Epicureus, via a long chain of reasoning, deducted an ethic that is essentially modern (albeit often misunderstood due to its suppression and distorsion by the christian tradition). 2300 years ago.
I wonder if A Man in Full novel by Tom Wolfe is a precursor of this stoicism trend.
In short, Dilbert probably reads Seneca.
I can not highly recommend enough "The Meaning of Life : Perspectives from the World's Great Intellectual Traditions". It's one of The Great Courses and I found, extremely easy to listen to. The topics covered range from the Bhagavad Gita, to the Book of Job, to Stoicism, to Daoism, Confucianism, Bhuddism, and all the way into modernity (Hume, Mills, Kant, Tolstoy) and post-modernity (Nietzsche).
A pervasive theme of ALL cultures with a philosophical tradition is the necessity of living one's life with the moment to moment realization of one's death.
Kant's CI for ethics.
Tao Te Ching for perspective and focus.
Nonviolent communication by Marshall Rosenberg for confrontation and interpersonal communication. The concept of NVC and, through its negation, violent communication underscores so much of what's currently going on in the world.
edit: For those of you down voting me for whatever reason, can you at least contribute to the discussion and explain how my answer was a poor one?
The bible is one of the greatest stories ever told containing a myriad of different ways at looking at life.
Also, while I agree there are many valuable lessons to be learned from the Bible, the New Testament is not a book for people who strive for wealth, and HN attracts strivers. Not to say you can't be a Christian and strive for wealth, but the striving is going to come from some other part of your life, and it's going to force you to compartmentalize Christian values to some extent. Seneca, on the other hand, was unapologetically wealthy, and his philosophy was consistent with that.
I am often bewildered by those who pour a great deal of energy in planning for retirement and ignoring the fact that they will soon thereafter be pushing up daisies. Death awaits us all.
Today, I can easily move around, feed/wash myself, and but that won't be true forever. Putting money away for later gives me some measure of confidence I'll be able to pay someone to help me when the time comes.
To your question though, I find that as I get older life is increasingly more interesting. I suspect that will be the case regardless of whether I'm hobbled by my body.
Also, if I have grandchildren I can imagine wanting to hang around to see them grow up.
> edit: For those of you down voting me for whatever reason, can you at least contribute to the discussion and explain how my answer was a poor one?
> The bible is one of the greatest stories ever told containing a myriad of different ways at looking at life.
By itself, it wasn’t a very compelling comment. You made no effort to support your position. Given that the Christian bible is considered to be a religious text first and philosophy second (if at all), you should have made a case for why it was relevant in this context.
It then explains that the remedy to the judgement we deserve is believing in Jesus Christ, who by bearing that judgement, causes our sin to be imputed to himself and his righteousness to be imputed to us. Accepting this requires us to admit we are totally helpless and at God's mercy. That's an even more offensive message.
by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Josephy Rickaby